The Bartlett School of Planning


Evaluating the governance of design – the CABE experiment and beyond

Evaluating the governance of design



From its creation to its demise as an independent organisation, the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE) fronted a national drive for better design in the built environment.  Globally it was a unique organisation and a full understanding of its work and impact is of international significance.   

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this research project with a team at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning led by Professor Matthew Carmona, conducted an in-depth investigation of the work of CABE from 1999-2011. 

Research Questions

The evaluation posed two fundamental questions: 

  1. What are the public policy characteristics of design in the built environment and what is the moral / societal case for intervention in that area?
  2. In a context of public austerity, localism, and a drive for private sector (market) innovation, what role is there for ‘good design’ as a public policy goal?

An 'inductive research methodology was used with extensive data collection, that can help to answer the fundamental questions by asking:

  • How were the characteristics of ‘good design’ as a national policy goal shaped and negotiated in relation to the prevailing political economy, processes of governance, and the political consensus around the design agenda during the New Labour years?
  • How effective have processes of design governance been at delivering on the design agenda, and how have the range of non-statutory tools adopted by CABE – evidence, publicity, information sharing, guidance, improvement tools, assistance, monitoring, persuading, coalition building, education, evaluation – fared as means to deliver this agenda?


This evaluative work always intended to help shape policy in England, and further afield. The experience of CABE has brought significant insight into the role, nature and legitimacy of design as a public policy tool, and the role of the state and others in leadership.

Drawing on our research Matthew Carmona recently published a number of suggestions for how to build upon the 'Place Leadership' recommendations of The Farrell Review. Those tentative ideas were well received and Sir Terry has asked us to lead in taking forward this aspect of his review. We have already held 3 high level Big Meets of cross-sector organisations with an interest in place design, here at UCL and are now supporting the Place Alliance.

For more information, feedback, or queries please email placealliance@ucl.ac.uk


Professor Matthew Carmona 
Principal investigator
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Dr Claudio de Magalhaes  
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Dr Lucy Natarajan 
Research Associate
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Wendy Clarke  
Research Assistant
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Valentina Giordano
Research Associate
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Oct 2014 

Big Meet 2: on Founding the Place Alliance 2nd Oct 2014, at UCL

Organisations and individuals set out their ideas for a new alliance to address the gap in place leadership. Plenary discussions and thematic group conversations followed to reflect on: A Meeting Point & Knowledge Hub; Supporting & Influencing Local Practice; Influencing National Policy & Capacity; and Encouraging Public Engagement. These strengthened the conclusions of the first Big Meet, and developed the basis for moving forward with the Place Alliance.

July 2014 

Big Meet on Place Leadership 17th July, at UCL

As a follow-up to The Farrell Review and drawing our research Matthew Carmona recently published a number of suggestions for how to build upon the 'Place Leadership' recommendations of The Farrell Review. These tentative ideas have been well received and Sir Terry has asked us to lead in taking forward this aspect of his review. To discuss the issues raised we are holding a high level 'Big Meet' here at UCL of cross-sector organisations with an interest in place design. 

June 2014

We have completed our final "Reunions"*:

  • CABE Competitions Programme 
  • Housing Market Renewal Programme: Stoke on Trent and Pennine East Lancashire
  • Design Review - Masterplan: East Kettering and Aylesbury Vale series, Fleet Marsden and Salden Chase

May 2014

While working on setting up the last remaining "Reunions"* in June, we have also completed the following:

  • 2004-2010 Urban Design Summer Schools Programme  

April 2014

Following a period of consolidation and revision work, we have set up a 'Reunion'* on CABE influencing Government Departments and Agencies and their policies and strategies for the build environment:

  • 1999-2010 CABE and Government

March 2014

In March, we held six more ‘Reunions'*:

  • 2003 Sure Start Enabling – early years education centres
  • 2007 Spaceshaper Toolkit – managing a design quality indication
  • 2008 Public Space Enabling – green & open space strategies
  • 2004 Housing Audit – growing the national survey
  • 2009 Sustainable Cities – developing the website
  • 2003 Building for Life – creating evaluation criteria

February 2014

We have completed our first 'Reunion'* in 'the regions', which was well attended with a representative from each of the former English regions.

January 2014

5 'Reunions'* have been completed so far:

  • 2007 Paved with Gold - publication and lead up to it 
  • 2010 Beauty - research and web-launch 
  • 2009 Building Futures - research programme
  • 2002 Design Review London: The Shard
  • 2009 Design Review: Birmingham Central Library

December 2013

Season Greetings and Best Wishes for 2014. See you in January with updates on the first series of Reunions.

November 2013

We are arranging workshops to get in-depth reflections from people who were involved in important episodes of CABE activity.

October 2013

We are building a comprehensive timeline of the era of CABE and preparing for the next stage of our evaluation.

September 2013

Interviewing is nearing an end and we are developing our understanding of the activities of CABE

August 2013

We are busy interviewing and pouring over media coverage of CABE's work.

July 2013

We are getting ready to conduct interviews. We will be getting first hand opinion from within CABE and the government, as well as from supporters and critics, for a rounded picture.

June 2013

We have revamped our project website and we will be posting updates on the project on this page.

*These are discursive workshops focused on a particular episode of CABE’s work 

Place Alliance

Following on from Big Meet 2 we have launched the Place Alliance, and will be hosting this Movement for Place Quality at UCL. All further information can be found at the new Place Alliance website.

Please send any queries and questions to placealliance@ucl.ac.uk